2019 Week 9

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Field School 2019 – Week 9
Grant Zopp — St. Mary’s College of Maryland

“Dirt, Dirt, James Madison’s Montpelier, and More Dirt”

After a successful and scorching hot Tidewater Archaeology Weekend, it’s great to be back to work at the site. Because the field school worked throughout Tidewater Archaeology Weekend, we got to come back to the site to work on Wednesday morning instead of Tuesday. But just because we had a shorter work week didn’t mean we’d get any less work done!

Griffin Bentzel and Alden Grosh troweling an excavation unit to reveal traces of cultural activity

Wednesday, our first day back, was a big change temperature-wise for the field school coming back from a weekend with a heat index of 115 to a cool breezy day. This made things easier for the field school because as we begin winding down for the end of summer there’s lots of work to finish up. The heat during Tidewater Archaeology Weekend meant we had lots of loose soil leftover to sift and a few students were tasked with sifting through the dirt and bagging the artifacts while the remainder of the field school went right back to excavating units. Even though Tidewater Archaeology Weekend was over, we still had plenty of visitors come to the Calvert House site to learn about archaeology. 

Terry Brock speaking to the field school about the architectural history of James Madison’s Montpelier

On Thursday we got to go on a field trip to James Madison’s Montpelier. It’s always exciting to see other active archaeological sites and the history behind them. When we arrived at Montpelier, we met up with Assistant Director of Archaeology Terry Brock who gave us a tour of the plantation complete with the location of previous dig sites, the burial site of numerous enslaved African Americans, reconstructed slave quarters, the house of James and Dolly Madison, and the “Mere Distinction of Colour” exhibit that highlights the people who endured slavery on the property. The museum makes a point to show how the enslaved lived and their perspective within everyday life without withholding information that may not paint James Madison in the best light in order to give a more complete and honest view of life at Montpelier.

Chris Rico working hard on a drawing of an excavation unit

Friday the field school was back at site with lots of work to do. A large group of students began mapping some of the units in the Calvert House site.  Field school student Sara Deming and I got to start a profile mapping of western most unit’s east wall. Profile mapping involves measuring each layer of soil until we reach sub soil. Then the layers need to be mapped. Following that we measured and added where artifacts were such as gravel, brick, and charcoal.

Saturday many people were still mapping and documenting soil types. My group got moved to the trash deposit pit unit in the south of the site. Our goal was to collect one cubic foot of soil to take back to the lab to test and to collect more cubic feet of dirt to screen and then water screen to catch more artifacts. We found lots of bones as well as other artifacts like pipe stems and French table glass when excavating the unit. There were so many artifacts to excavate carefully that we didn’t get to do any water screening.

Even though our summer is coming to an end, our excitement and interest for archaeology is only growing. We look forward to our last week of work in the 2019 field school.

A pile of bone and shell removed from the top of a trash midden